As I exited the airport I was immediately hit with a wave of intense heat and humidity. The arrival entrance of the Athens International Airport was pure chaos. People were milling around looking for their loved ones, sprinting to the departing bus or wheeling their metals carts with towers of teetering luggage bags. My eyes were searching for the hidden train sign pointing me to the airport train into the city. The sweat was pouring down my face into my eyes and I could feel my anxiety level rise as I couldn’t find the sign pointing me in the direction of the train. Finally I spotted the elusive sign hidden behind some greenery and I was on my way into the ancient city of Athens.
Athens, Greece was my first stop of my Spring 2015 Europe Tour and I couldn’t have been more excited after more than 10 hours of flying over the Atlantic. Greece has always been in the top 3 countries I have wanted to visit in Europe. When I left Italy years ago I promised myself that the next European country I visited would be Greece. Something about its aura had me yearning to experience its culture, food, landscape, and colorful islands.
Athens was everything I thought it would be and everything I thought it would not be. It was loud, chaotic, colorful, bland, old, new, clean, dirty, and everything in between. I was pleasantly surprised to find the public transportation was clean and efficient and I could get wherever I needed to whenever I needed.
Within an hour I was at my hostel – Athens Backpackers Hostel, a place I would call home for the next two days. I threw my stuff on my bed and immediately headed outside to explore my new neighborhood, which just so happened to be in the shadows of the Acropolis. The neighborhood surrounding the Acropolis historical site is quaint and charming. The cobblestone streets are dotted with cute little cafes with plenty of outdoor seating. The sweet and salty scents of gelato and gyros will have your taste buds salivating with desire. As you stroll past the Acropolis Museum towards the entrance to the Acropolis you’ll past talented locals playing instruments or serenading you with familiar tunes while artists paint the Acropolis under the golden light of the setting sun. You’ll hear a mix of languages ranging from Greek to English to Spanish to Chinese. Strolling up and down the streets are almost magical and have you dreaming about what it must be like to wander the dusty cobblestone streets in centuries past.
Athens is a late night city. Dinner starts around 10pm and the drinking and dancing continue into the early morning hours. Don’t be surprised if you greet the first rays of the sun after a Ouzo-filled night. I spent my first night in Athens at the hostel rooftop bar. You can’t beat the view of the Acropolis lit up at night under a waning moon. Within the first few minutes of sipping a cold Mythos in a plastic cup, I succeeded to meet my friends for the next couple of nights, including a fellow Mainer. I couldn’t believe that I traveled halfway around the world to meet someone else of the same age from Portland, Maine. Generally when I travel I have to draw people a map to explain where I’m from. It was a pleasant surprise to meet and bond with someone over mutual friends, lobster, and Maine craft beers.
The following morning I was up early to hit the streets of Athens for a walking food tour with Athens Walking Tours. I spent over 3 hours tasting a few of Greece’s traditional cuisine in the Panepistimio neighborhood of Athens. My taste buds were dancing the entire time as I sampled fresh olive oil, thyme honey, the sweet and syrupy loukoumades and salty feta cheese. But more on this amazing experience later this week. After filling my tummy with delicious Greek food, it was time to burn off some calories while exploring the Acropolis and other nearby ruins of the ancient city.
Exploring the Acropolis is obviously a very touristy activity to do, but one you must do because missing out of one of the world’s oldest structures would be heartbreaking. The Acropolis is a juxtaposition of stunning beauty and utter decay. Despite the massive crowds yielding selfie sticks, battling to a prime spot in front of the ancient sites is worth the elbowing and wait. From atop the hill you can see the sprawling white city of Athens dancing in the smog as far as the eye can see. The Mediterranean Sea can be seen glistening in the far off distance with cruise ships and sailboats dotting the horizon. The hot sun beats down on the tan-colored marble and radiates through your skin.
Athens is a city for the senses. Your taste buds will be delighted, your ears will dance to the beat of the honking and yelling, your nose will welcome the sweet smell of the delicious Greek food and crinkle at the smell of the rotting trash on the side streets, your eyes will take in the stunning sights of the city and the nearby mountains, and your hands will relax under the smooth, cool touch of ancient marble and a cold glass of Mythos beer. Athens is chaotic, hot, and loud city rich in history and culture. It was a city that I quickly felt in love with and I can’t wait to share more stories from my short time in her heart. It is a city that I know I will return to in the near future.